New York’s reigning rap rookie A$AP Rocky is commanding attention with a style-conscious crew whose music boasts tons of Dirty South attitude. John Kennedy hits the block with hip-hop's new Renaissance Men
Photographer: Ashley Sky Walker
A$AP Rocky is no Mr. Me Too. When Master P’s No Limit tank rolled into Harlem in 2002 to shoot a video for the Diplomats’ New Orleans–flavored “Bout It, Bout It Part 3,” the whole ‘hood posted up. But the scruffy kid with the beat-up kicks (think Dukie in The Wire)—a Dipset enthusiast—chose to bypass the hoopla. He could look, but he couldn’t touch. And what fun was that? “There were mad bad bitches, older bitches, showing love to all the other niggas getting money. And I’m just a little nigga,” 23-year-old Rocky, born Rakim Mayers, recalls. “If I go somewhere and I feel like there’s too much stuntin’ and I can’t join it, I’ll leave. That’s why I hate clubs—all that fake ballin’ with bottles. If somebody is onstage doing what they do, I’m like, I’ma do that times 10.”
The same kid who refused to jock someone else’s movement is now intent on creating his own. Backed by his seven-man A$AP Mob (an acronym for “Always Strive and Prosper”)—a local street artsy collective of rappers, producers, directors and fashion zealots—A$AP has formed a unique brand of Uptown trill that blends tongue-twisting Midwest flows, chopped-and-screwed flavor and a touch of Manhattan swagger. This June, they’ll headline the preshow at New York radio station Hot 97’s legendary Summer Jam concert, one month before the release of Rocky’s major-label debut, Long Live A$AP, which enlists production from Swizz Beatz, Hit-Boy and Pharrell. But today, Rocky and his band of bros are holding court on the same Venice Beach blacktop where Woody Harrelson once proved white men can jump. A ball is retrieved from who knows where and Rucker Park instantly teleports to L.A., but with less converted baskets.
“My shot ain’t shit,” says Rocky after a high-arching jumper from the elbow smacks nothing but Plexiglas. Twelvy and Nast—two of the group’s punch-line specialists—build onto Rock’s brick house before Ferg, a burly East-West rap hybrid, finally sinks a bank shot. Trash talk follows. “I smoke too much, fuck too much,” their slender leader concedes.
With stacked teams like Young Money, Odd Future and Maybach Music winning, there’s clearly strength in numbers. But A$AP Rocky stresses his crew’s self-sustaining abilities. “We ain’t nobody’s artists. We just got us,” he insists. “I used to look at Kanye and his friends and say, ‘These niggas is poppin.’ Now I look at Kanye and I’m like, ‘He’s too poppin’. I don’t want that kind of poppin’.”